Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

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TOB, Tradition & You

How Does Theology of the Body Fit Into Church Tradition?

Part 2 of a Register symposium on Pope John Paul II’s catechesis.

by COLIN DONOVAN, STL 03/07/2011
EWTN PHOTO

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic faith is an authentic theological development. From the starting point of divine revelation (Scripture and Tradition), new insights into the meaning and implications of the faith are found, under the guidance of the magisterium.

Theology is “faith seeking understanding” (St. Anselm), so while the faith does not change, the Church’s understanding of it deepens.

At first glance, the theology of the body seems entirely new. Instead of studying the objective natures of things, as Catholic philosophers have traditionally done, it reflects on human experience, in order to discover the essential elements of experience as they appear in the consciousness of the human person.

Since it concerns human “experience,” and not human nature, its critics often view it as a purely subjective method, incapable of producing universally valid results.

As it turns out, the philosopher Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) agrees with some of this criticism.
Studying the use of the “phenomenological method” in the early 1950s, then-Father Wojtyla immediately saw its usefulness as a means of insight into the human person’s appreciation of moral value and the formation of conscience. This, in fact, had already been demonstrated in the 1920s by the great German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and by his fellow student of the method, St. Edith Stein.

Deciding to adopt it himself, the future Pope recognized that in order to be useful the method’s results had to be judged by both theology and an objective philosophy, such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Otherwise, there was a danger of experience itself being the ultimate standard and of the user falling into subjectivism or emotionalism.
It was this early study of the value of the method, as well as his recognition of its deficiencies, that led the Pope to develop an approach often called “Thomistic personalism.”

For Pope John Paul II, the study of the person’s experience of the world is immensely important for moral and spiritual formation, but it is only theological and pastorally valid when understood within the framework of Catholic theology and objective philosophy.

Outside of this framework, the very same method is untrustworthy. Indeed, the often failed results of such methods in secular circles, where subjective experience drives philosophy, the human sciences and the culture, has amply demonstrated this to be true.

The Pope’s use of this method, therefore, adds a complementary insight, not a contradictory one, to St. Thomas’ synthesis of theology and philosophy. To the objectivity of revelation and that of objective philosophy, the Holy Father has added a third dimension: an understanding of how the human person perceives the world.

In the last several decades, its pastoral value, when used in the cautious manner proposed by the Pope, has already been amply shown. However, as the Pope’s biographer George Weigel has stated, it will take centuries for the Church to fully understand the new light which the Pope’s method and teaching has shone on unchanging truths.

Colin Donovan, STL, is vice president for theology at EWTN. He obtained his licentiate at the Pontifical Angelicum, writing on the development of Pope John Paul II’s theology of self-giving in marriage.

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. To his intercession and works, I owe a great deal. It is through his works that my mind found a framework through which I can view the world. Through his intercession, I continue to pursue the face of our Lord in Scripture.  I hope one day through prayer and study I can be described like his order’s founder, Father Dominic:

…as it were, received into his blood and marrow the riches of Sacred Scripture, and especially of Paul.” (Pope Benedict XV, Fausto Appetente Die, 1921.)

So, how do we celebrate the feast of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas? I thought we could listen to a homily by Fr. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., dean  of the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. His homily is a great tribute to the sanctity of St. Thomas and the intellectual knowledge that flowed from it.

For more on St. Thomas, check out Catholic Online.

Additionally, you can find a number of his works at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.


St. Thomas, ora pro nobis!

God’s Kiss to Creation

Are you still celebrating?” I hope you are! The Christmas season isn’t over yet. The last day of the Christmas season is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (don’t sigh, it used to continue until Candlemas, February 2). And so, with Vespers this Sunday, all the celebrating ceases and we get back to the hum-drum of our Lord’s life…or do we? Maybe Ordinary time would not be so ordinary, if we took a minute or two to consider how the Solemnity of the Incarnation has prepared us for the rest of the Church year.

Michael Card, a Christian artist, released a song in 1987 entitled, The Final Word. The lyrics are worth a short read:

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought became flesh and blood.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.

And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.

Michael Card sums up Christmas, and all the associated celebrations, with the lines, “When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love, He spoke it in one final perfect Word. He spoke the Incarnation, and then so was born a Son.” This alone should make our hearts leap for joy! The Father has made the deliberate choice to reveal the mystery of His love through the Word made Flesh.

Going deeper, we quickly realize that the Incarnation is the door through which the human body enters into theology. Even more importantly, upon reflection, we suddenly become aware that the human person finds its deepest meaning only when understood through the person of Jesus. Venerable John Paul II constantly reminded us of this and loved to quote throughout his Pontificate, the words found in paragraph 22 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World(Gadium et Spes),

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear (n. 22).

Our understanding of who we are is directly rooted, and thus finds its origin, in the Incarnation. Even our theology must finds its locus and be guided by the conception and birth of the Christ-child. John Paul II writes in Fides et Ratio,

The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological inquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation (n. 93).

The Solemnity of the Incarnation is not just the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. It is the “decoder ring” as it were for understanding God Himself. This in turn, becomes the very foundation of our Christian Anthropology which helps us answer the deepest questions in our lives, “Who am I? What is my purpose?”. We cannot even begin discussing the rest of the mysteries of our faith without a proper understanding of the Incarnation. In other words, as a speaker I once heard said,

If the language of Israel is Hebrew and the language of Islam is Arabic, the language of Christianity is the body.

How we understand the Incarnation must affect the way we view the rest of our theology. Our catechesis has always taught us that Original Sin necessitated the Incarnation for our redemption. St. Thomas, using St. Augustine’s formulation (De Verb. Apost. viii, 2), when responding to three objections, as he answered the question, “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?” says,

Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come. And on 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners,” a gloss says, “There was no cause of Christ’s coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.” (ST III, Q. 1, Art. 3, sed contra)

In the end, the Incarnation was simply a remedy for sin.[1] Being a self-proclaimed Thomist, it pains me to say that I think there is a deeper mystery to consider apart from St. Thomas’ (and St. Augustine’s) position. In fact, I believe that the Franciscan Blessed John Don Scotus has something to add to the discussion. Peter J. Leithart, during his discussion on Necessary Incarnation, explains the Scotian position as such,

For [Scotus] the Incarnation apart from the Fall was not merely a most convenient assumption, but rather an indispensable doctrinal presupposition. The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation…The main emphasis of Duns Scotus was on the unconditional and primordial character of the Divine decree of the Incarnation, seen in the total perspective of Creation.

In other words, from all eternity, God the Father called forth creation in order to have a place for us to encounter His Son in the flesh. WOW!!!! Many of the mystics (i.e., Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc.) would take it a step further and say that from all eternity the Father intended to give a bride to His Son and creation is His bridal chamber. The Incarnation then is the only way for humanity to encounter its heart’s desire.

This Scotian view can also found also in the thought and writings of two immanent Doctor’s of the Church: St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the Apostolic Doctor and Doctor of Conversions and Missions and St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Love of God.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi wrote,

God is love, and all his operations proceed from love. Once he wills to manifest that goodness by sharing his love outside himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of his goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for his own sake. For him all things were created and to him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned.

Additionally, St. Francis de Sales, the great Doctor of God’s Love wrote with some of the most beautiful words in discussing the why of creation. Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., in an essay appearing in: Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition (Rome: international Commission for Salesian Spirituality, 2007) pp. 399-408, argues convincingly this de Sales Scotian view. By way of example, he says,

Many texts from de Sales could be cited in support of his Scotian understanding of the relationship between creation and Incarnation, but the words of his final Christmas sermon are especially apt. Just as a contractor designs a house that will suit the personality and wishes of his client, “the eternal Father did just that in creating this world. For his intention was to create it for his Son who is the Eternal Word.”

Fr. Fiorelli continues and discusses how St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God speaks of the Incarnation as “God’s Kiss to Creation.” I don’t think there is a more beautiful image to share with our wives and children-that the Word made Flesh is God the Father’s kiss to creation. From here, one has to admit that the rest of Jesus’ life is a wooing of his Bride into this eternal love affair. Every action, ever gesture now explodes with meaning with the understanding that Jesus called forth creation in order to woo His Bride.

In one sense, we suddenly understand that the cosmos was created, just because He wanted to present a gift to His Bride. Continuing that train of thought, in an age that needs to know the “why” to everything, the answer to the popular question, “Why did He created the billions of stars and galaxies if we are the only rational life?” is “Because He could. He desired to capture the love and affections of our hearts with sheer magnanimous beauty.” And, isn’t that what a Bridegroom does? Doesn’t He adorn His bride and her bridal suite so as to prepare her for that personal exchange of  love?

It is true that regardless of our speculation, the Fall of Man happened – non contendere! But it is also true that the love of God for us is beyond compare. Is it so hard to believe that if He was walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the Garden that he would not want to further unite our hearts to His in eternal love? To embrace this Scotian view does not cheapen but only deepens our understanding of God’s love for us.

And, how did we get to these considerations? All of this because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


[1] I should also point out, in an effort to be fair (I need to redeem my Thomistic roots), St. Thomas did not exclude the possibility of an Incarnation that was necessitated by the need for redemption in the same sed contra,

And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.

The Scandal of Amazing Grace

This week at my parish, Fr. Larry Richards is leading our mission. The week has been filled with so many graces it has been overwhelming. For all of his missions, Wednesday is dedicated to the Passion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ…Blessed be His Name! In tandem with the evening’s presentation, confession is offered to all those present.

Last night I watched a scandalous event take place. Before you panic, no worries, Fr. Larry was fantastic and there was nothing improper. So, the question is, “What was so scandalous?” I am so glad you asked!

I watched a teen non-Catholic young lady  stand in a long confession line for an hour and a half to confess her sins. All the while, knowing full well that absolution was not likely to be offered since she is not Catholic. Watching her was amazing. She approached with a yearning confidence somehow recognizing that our Lord had empowered the priest to absolve her of her sins.

I have no idea what she was thinking. I have no clue whether a grace-filled indult was granted and absolution extended. I have no idea whether the heroic exterior was a mask for a trembling conscience. I do not even know if she smiled afterward with some consolation. What I do know is that she did what many Catholics take for granted or refuse to do. And here my friends is the scandal.

The scandal is not that the confession lines are short while a non-Catholic is willing to stand waiting for an hour for her confession to be heard. It is not even the fact that many of us trust in the ritual instead of the Father’s love, mercy and grace that our Lord wants to give. The scandal is she had the courage to look directly into the face of the redeemer, face her faults and sins with a maturity that few adults dare to dream of. The scandal is that we are comfortable where we are in our spiritual life while she who is uncatechized said to our Lord, “I thirst.”

How do we ante up? We first commit to scrutiny. Most think that it is the job of the priest or preacher to address the sin in our lives. But this is not true. It is actually more the responsibility of the family and community. Now, the natural response is that we tell our family or friends to stop judging us or to look at themselves. St. John of the Cross says that the rebuttal against judging is the primary sign of pride. St. Thomas explains that telling the other to look at themselves is sure evidence of vanity. We need repent for rejecting the grace of repentance poured out by the Holy Spirit for our salvation and holiness.

Secondly, we need to stop looking at just the top ten. Many of us think we are doing great by avoiding the top ten while embracing the culture lock, stock and barrel. Yep, that’s right. We need to judge (which means to decide by the way God measures) what we listen to, the activities we choose to partake in and our integrity at work. EVERYTHING is free game before the Lord.

This should not overwhelm us but cause us to give thanks to God for His gracious mercy while desiring to fill ALL of our life with His holiness. Tonight my family and I are back at the mission. My prayer for myself and my family is that the Holy Spirit has its way with us and to not allow us to get away with just listening to a mission. We want to be a scandelon too but for the glory of His Name and mercy.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. (Psalm 115:1-3)

Bl. John Duns Scotus…Part Deux

Joe continues his discussion today on the philosophy of Bl. John Duns Scotus.  I truly appreciate his focus on universals and the variances in the though of Scotus and Aquinas.  Wonderful article.  Thanks again Joe!

Philosophy of Bl. John Duns Scotus

In the world of Philosophy, especially in periods of the High and Later Medieval period, the question of the day centered around the problems of universals.  Within this problem is the ever present battle of the two dominant schools of Philosophy, that of the Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought.  The Platonic school deals with universals in the same way it deals with the way it handles the apprehension of knowledge.  That is to say that it begins with a singular cause and all things share in the cause.  As a result, you come to know the effects as sharers in the cause.  In the Aristotelian school you know about the cause by means of its effects.

What is amazing, during the Scholastic Age, is the progression of thought from one thinker to another.  We see this in the progression from the Platonic school of thought that seems to reach its climax at the same time that Aristotelian thought makes its way into philosophical and theological thought, by means of St. Thomas Aquinas who encountered its reintroduction at the University of Naples.  Aquinas’ thought encouraged this transition in that Scotus carries the thought of Aquinas a step forward, while injecting his own thought into it.  We see the distinction rather clearly if we compare how both Aquinas and Scotus define universals.

Aquinas argued the following:

  • Universals have independent, intelligible reality as “Ideas” in the mind of God, though they are not ontologically distinct from God.
  • Universals “exist” in the sensible world only in things and not apart from them.
  • Human beings, using the abstracting/comparing functions of reason, discover identical, common “form” in different material things.  This is how we come to have imperfect, approximate knowledge of universals.
  • True universals cannot be known “in themselves” by human beings in this life.

By contrast, Scotus argued universals in the following way:

  • Universals exist as universals only in the human mind.
  • Universals are not just figments of our imagination but are grounded in reality, in what Scotus calls essence or common nature.
  • The individual and the universal are two different aspects of this common nature.  The common nature itself is neither universal nor individual, but has the capacity to be both.
  • The common nature becomes singular in individual things through “contraction” (the principle whereby universal properties exist only through their particulars).  The “individuating feature” of a particular thing, its “haeccity”(thisness), contracts the common nature to singularity.
  • The common nature becomes universal through the abstraction of the human intellect.

So we see that Aquinas still holds on to a bit of Platonic philosophy in that his idea of universals share in the same understanding of that universal which is held in the mind of God.  So what we perceive as the universal understanding of what a chair is, is the same understanding of what God would know of them and we know them by means of analogy, as the idea that God would know as chair would be the perfect understanding, while the human mind only comprehends a limited understanding of chair.

Scotus, on the other hand, being a bit more Aristotelian than Aquinas, would argue that we understand universals to be both grounded in reality in that they exist as well as being what is the most common understanding of what something is, in this case we will continue to use the idea of a chair.  Scotus would say that a chair exists both as a quality of being, in that it exists, but also that it is part of the understood “consciousness” that man understands it through the particulars that chair presents to the human mind.

The Scholastic Age continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, for Medieval historians, philosophers, and theologians.  An age that was dominated, by the reckoning of some historians, by only a handful of thinkers, is now turning out to be an age that is turning out a great many thinkers, including Blessed John Duns Scotus, who are being translated and studied with renewed interest.  What an exciting time it is to be a Catholic who is interested in Medieval thought.

Thomas Aquinas & Biotechnology

It is a video week…well, so far.  Many have wondered how St. Thomas would approach biotechnology in the 21st century. Dr. Stephen Meredith presented the following  lecture entitled, Thomas Aquinas, Scientist: How Might He Approach 21st Century Biotechnology for the Lumen Christi Institute. His abstract describes the lecture as such:

Despite flaws in his biology, Aquinas’ writings offer us guidance in our approach to 21st century biotechnology. Aquinas’ notion of a Just War provides us with a way for thinking about biotechnology, since both use morally ambiguous means to address evils in an imperfect world. A comparison of these two disparate issues can yield criteria for an ethics of biotechnology.

I found this to be a thought provoking presentation to imagine St. Thomas approaching these new technologies.

Stephen Meredith is Professor in Pathology and the Biological Sciences at The University of Chicago, and teaches Fundamentals courses in the College.

Stephen Meredith: “Thomas Aquinas, Scientist: How Might He Approach 21st Century Biotechnology” from The Lumen Christi Institute on Vimeo.

THE “SUMMA THEOLOGICA”, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS’ MASTERPIECE

St. Thomas surrounded by the Doctors of the Church.

Over the past two decades, there has been a resurgence in Thomism.  The Holy Father’s catechesis shows us how eloquent St. Thomas was through his composition of the Summa.  One of the great features of his work is the section on the virtues.  This of course could only be preached by one of lived it first. The late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira said,

“In truth, St. Thomas possessed all the moral virtues in a very high degree, and so closely bound together in his soul that they formed one whole in charity [the love of God], which, as he himself states, ‘informs the acts of all the other virtues.’

I hope that everyone will take up the task to study St. Thomas and his Summa.  If you find his work difficult to read (which it can be), I suggest The Tour of the Summa, by Paul J. Glenn.  Enjoy the Holy Father’s catechesis on the Angelic Doctor!

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THOMAS AQUINAS: INTER-RELATION OF PHILOSOPHY, THEOLOGY

VATICAN CITY, 16 JUN 2010 (VIS) – In his catechesis during this morning’s general audience, Benedict XVI continued his presentation of the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas, “a theologian of such importance that the study of his works was explicitly recommended by Vatican Council II”, he said. He also recalled how in 1880 Leo XIII declared him as patron of Catholic schools and universities.

The Pope noted how Thomas Aquinas focused on the distinction between philosophy and theology. This was because in his time, in the light of Aristotelian and Platonic thought on the one hand, and the philosophy of the Church Fathers on the other, “the burning question was whether … a philosophy elaborated without reference to Christ and the world of faith, and that elaborated bearing Christ and the world of faith in mind, were compatible or mutually exclusive”.

“Thomas”, the Holy Father explained, “was firmly convinced that they were compatible, and that the philosophy elaborated without Christ was awaiting only the light of Jesus in order to be made complete. The novelty of Thomas, what determined his path as a thinker, was this: to demonstrate the independence of philosophy and theology, and at the same time their inter-relation”.

For the “Doctor Angelicus”, the Pope went on, “faith consolidates, integrates and illuminates the heritage of truth acquired by human reason. The trust St. Thomas places in these two instruments of knowledge (faith and reason) can be explained by his conviction that both come from a single wellspring of truth, the divine Logos which works in the area of both creation and redemption”.

Having established the principle of reason and faith, St. Thomas makes it clear that they follow different cognitive processes: “Reason accepts a truth by virtue of its intrinsic evidence, either mediated or direct; faith, on the other hand, accepts a truth on the basis of the authority of the revealed Word of God”.

“This distinction ensures the autonomy of the human sciences, … and the theological sciences. However this does not mean a separation; rather, it implies mutual and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from any temptation to mistrust in its own capacities and stimulates it to open itself to ever broader horizons”.

“Reason too, with the means at its disposal, can do something important for faith, offering it a triple service which St. Thomas summarises thus: … ‘demonstrating the foundations of faith; using similitudes to explain the truth of faith; rebuffing the objections that arise against the faith’. The entire history of Christian theology is, in the final analysis, the exercise of this duty of the intellect, which shows the intelligibility of the faith, its inner structure and harmony, its reasonableness and its capacity to promote the good of man.

“The correctness of theological reasoning and its true cognitive significance is based on the value of theological language which, according to St. Thomas, is principally a language of analogy”, the Pope added. “Analogy recognises shared perfections in the created world and in God”. Thomas based his doctrine of analogy, “not only on purely philosophical arguments, but also on the fact that, with the revelation, God Himself spoke to us and, thus, authorised us to speak about Him”.

The Holy Father highlighted the importance of this doctrine which, he said, “helps us overcome certain objections raised by modern atheism which denies that religious language possesses objective meaning and holds that it only has a subjective or merely emotional value. In the light of the teachings of St. Thomas, theology affirms that, however limited, religious language does have meaning”.

St. Thomas’ moral theology retains great relevance in its affirmation that “the theological and moral virtues of man are rooted in human nature”, said Pope Benedict. “Divine Grace accompanies, supports and encourages ethical commitment but, according to St. Thomas, all men and women, believers and non-believers, are of themselves called to recognise the requirements of human nature as expressed in natural law, and to draw inspiration therefrom when formulating positive law; that is, the laws produced by civil and political authorities to regulate human society.

“When natural law and the responsibility it implies are denied,” he added, “the way is thrown dramatically open to ethical relativism at an individual level, and to totalitarianism at a political level. Defending the universal rights of man and affirming the absolute value of the dignity of the person presupposes a foundation: and is not this foundation natural law, with the non-negotiable values it contains?”.

“Thomas”, the Holy Father concluded, “presents us with a broad and trusting view of human reason. Broad, because it is not limited to the area of empirical-scientific reason but open to all of existence and therefore also to the fundamental and inescapable questions of human life; trusting, because human reason, especially if it welcomes the inspiration of Christian faith, promotes a civilisation which recognises the dignity of the person, the inviolability of his rights and the cogency of his duties”.

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To Be or not To Be a Thomist is the Essence of the Question

The Trinity and the Actus Essendi

In the April 1998 edition of the Thomist, Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P. (then Sub-Prior at the Priory of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC), considered the nature of Analytical Thomism and its place in current theological and philosophical circles.  During the conversation, he shares that there is hope for Analytical Thomisn but questions what is the foundational tenet that makes someone a “Thomist”.  He states,

“There is cause for optimism then about the stimulus to Thomism that could come from Analytical Thomism. As noted in this discussion, however, the major cause for concern is metaphysical. At the heart of Aquinas’s philosophy is his understanding of being as ultimately rooted in esse as actus essendi. This does not fit with analytical metaphysical dogmas. Here then is where the ultimate test of allegiance lies. It is possible, of course, to be an analytic philosopher who offers interesting readings of Aquinas without any commitment to his doctrine of being. But I would not call such a one a Thomist, nor, I presume, would he call himself one. What I am arguing is that to be a Thomist of any stripe requires some primary commitment to Thomas’s metaphysics; without that commitment, one may be an interpreter or even a specialist, but one is not a Thomist. It is a matter of debate, of course, what other doctrines of St. Thomas one must adhere to in order to be a Thomist and surely the items are broader than the metaphysics of esse. But however one draws the Thomistic circle, the core must be esse in St. Thomas’s sense, not Frege’s.”

The question of esse or being has been a contentious issue no doubt findings its roots in DeCartes and his progeny.  For those who are unfamiliar with St. Thomas’ understanding of the actus essendi, the following is a great summary found on the Actus Essendi blogsite:

The expression ‘actus essendi’ is a technical term used by Aquinas in its restricted meaning. ‘Actus essendi’ is the metaphysical principle that goes ‘side by side’ with the metaphysical principle ‘essence’ in a subsistent extramental thing.

Three points of reference are indicated here. One, the real finite thing itself existing in the external world; another, the ‘essence’ which makes the thing to be what it is; and yet another, the ‘actus essendi’ which places both the thing with its ‘essence’ in actual existence.

In the real world ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi’ are inseparable metaphysical principles. The metaphysical principle of ‘actus essendi’ always appears instantiated in an ‘essence.’ And the ‘essence’ of the thing is what put limits to the thing’s participation in ‘actus essendi.’

The doctrine of the actus essendi appears at every turn in the philosophical and theological writings of Aquinas.

Still Aquinas is emphatic in saying that the metaphysical principle of the actus essendi is inseparable from ‘essence’.

At times Aquinas’ reflections concentrate more heavily and almost exclusively on the side of the metaphysical principle of ‘essence,’ but often his reflections rely entirely on the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. Nevertheless, throughout his writings, Aquinas crosses from the plane of ‘essence’ to the plane of the actus essendi and vice versa with remarkable facility.

The task of disentangling the nuances in doctrine he thus generates is not an easy one.

For Aquinas, the ‘act of being’ is the most profound perfection of a thing; it is an internal incommunicable metaphysical principle inseparable from the thing itself, from the ‘essence’ of the thing, and from anything that exists in the thing. No ‘essence’ actually present in nature makes itself known to the intellect without simultaneously making known its proper participation in ‘act of being.’

Orestes J. Gonzalez, “The metaphysical principles of ‘essence’ and ‘act of being” Actus Essendi Electronic Journal, Entry 01-0084.

Understanding this metaphysical principle is key because it sets the tone and exists as the foundational principle that all further arguments will build upon.  I would like to consider this over the next week and would invite all those who would like to further the discussion to do so.


Fowl Redemption

Over the centuries, a few birds and mythical fowl were adopted by Christians to symbolize Jesus and His saving actions.  The Pelican and the Phoenix quickly became  commonplace in the Church’s frescoes, murals and church architecture.  In modern times, we have begun to lose sight of these symbols through realism and rationalism.  They are timeless and help us appreciate the attempts to express the nature of our Lord and His Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses our Lord with “Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood,” in his hymn Adoro Te. Found often in Christian frescoes, murals and stained glass, the Pelican is a symbol of the atonement and the Redeemer.  It was believed that the pelican would wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood.  Shakespeare even alludes to this belief in Act IV of Hamlet, “To his good friend thus wide I’ll open my arms and, like the kind, life-rendering pelican, Repast them with my blood.”

The mythical creature of the Phoenix has also become a symbol of the resurrection since antiquity.  A legend that is believed to have found “life” in Egyptian lore, it quickly was Christianized and became a symbol in Christian art to illustrate Jesus’ purposeful choice to carry His cross and His victory over death. The Phoenix is believed to have built a nest when old, and set it on fire. It would then rise from the ashes in victory. Other cultures that include the phoenix myth are the Greeks and Orientals.